30

Jamaica

J intro

 

Welcome to New York City!

I should say upfront that I’m a hopeless fan. Ever since I first laid eyes on the place – exactly 25 years ago when the ad agency I worked for as a copywriter in Sydney sent me here for a “creative conference” – I’ve been hooked. It was 1987 and NY was fast and dangerous, ideal for a 20-something eager to experience life.

Since then of course the city has cleaned up and in the process lost some of its weird and gritty edge. But I still love it.

Like many people though, what I really mean when I say I love New York is that I love Manhattan. Because aside from one small expedition to Brooklyn on my last visit to NY four years ago, I’ve never strayed beyond it.

Coming here this time, with a mission to explore the ‘unfamous’ side of the city, I was almost shocked when I looked at a map and realised how enormous ‘New York’ really is. Manhattan is just one of its five boroughs, which are all so large that they could each be considered cities in their own right.

In short, I realised I’ve seen diddly. Time to get off the island and explore.

But where to start? Given the size of the place, my first challenge was working out where to go.

I had some time to think – a strep throat laid me low for a few days when we first arrived a week and a bit ago. But even when I felt well enough to venture out, I still hadn’t decided. Then last Sunday while scanning the papers I read that a neighbourhood called Jamaica in the borough of Queens was celebrating the end of Ramadan that day with a gathering of 20,000+ Muslims for prayer at… 9.30am. It was already 10.30 so clearly I’d missed the mass gathering but I was curious what the rest of the day would be about.

‘Suburb’ No 30 decided: Jamaica, Queens.

Some quick facts… Jamaica is in Queens, which is the most diverse place on earth apparently. Jamaica itself has distinct pockets of different nationalities. White and upper-middle class from 17th century until the mid-late 20th century when it had become working-middle class African American, Jamaican (handy) and Hispanic. The latest and fastest growing group in the eastern part of the neighbourhood is the Bangladeshis, attracted by the neighbourhood’s mosque. (The name, by the way, has nothing to do with the Jamaicans who live here. The Dutch called it ‘Jameco’, a Native American word, which then became Jamaica.)

Let’s go Jamaica!

 

Part 1: Food glorious food

To get to Jamaica you get on the F train from Manhattan and stay on it until almost the very end.

Emerging from 169th Street subway stop the first thing I noticed was that the landscape bore pretty much no resemblance to the NY I knew. Aside from the subway itself and the distinctive yellow traffic lights, there were no familiar cues to convince me I was still in NYC – tall canyons, brownstones, fire escapes, bagels – none of it.

But what really threw me were the people. Instead of the usual mix of black and white and everything in between that you see on Manhattan, almost everyone looked the same here – we had landed in Bangladesh central. A few streets to the south was a whole other world of Jamaicans and Hispanics – but along Hillside Avenue where we were it was like little Dhaka, minus a few million people.

And because the Bangladeshis were celebrating one of the two most important holidays in the Islamic calendar – Eid Mubarak, the end of Ramadan – everyone was decked out in their finest salwar kameez or sari.

Having wondered what happened post-prayers I discovered the answer was, very little apart from eating; having just endured a month of fasting they were wandering around, visiting friends, eating whenever and as much of as they wanted. 

 

 

ice cream truck time again

ice cream truck time again :: 1

 

 

 

 

beards the colour of snow cone syrup

beards the colour of snow cone syrup

 

 

 

 

cookie love

cookie love

 

 

 

 

ice cream truck time again :: 2

ice cream truck time again :: 2

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Sultana’s story

Standing around on Hillside Avenue near the subway stop I noticed a colourful troop of women crossing the street. A very beautiful 26 year old called Sultana was amongst them. I took her photo and said goodbye. Hours later we ran into her again and learned more about her. She’d only arrive from Bangladesh a year ago and missed it very much:

“I work in a nail salon here. I get bored. But you have to work here because everything’s so expensive.”

What would you do if you could do anything?

“Teach.” What? “Subjects.” Like what? “English.”

 

 

Bangladesh arrives on Hillside Avenue

Bangladesh arrives on Hillside Avenue

 

 

 

 

'I'm a nail artist but I'd like to be a teacher' - Sultana

‘I’m a nail artist but I’d like to be a teacher’ – Sultana

 

 

 

 

Sultana at the subway

Sultana at the subway

 

 

 

 

wearing her country's colours

wearing her country’s colours

 

 

 

 

mmm, okay so your mehendi is better than mine

mmm, okay so your mehndi is better than mine

 

 

 

 

dear Sultana, I hope this turns into a school blackboard one day

dear Sultana, I hope this turns into a school blackboard one day

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3: A warm welcome

The very first people we met when we arrived in the neighbourhood were Kainath and Nova. I mentioned I wanted to nose around someone’s house to see what went on there during Eid Mubarak and Kainath said, sure, come over to my house later.

 

 

Nova and Kainath, busy organising

Nova and Kainath, busy organising

 

 

 

 

Kainath showed me where she lived and said, come back at 5pm.

 

 

'this is my house, please come back at 5'

‘this is my house, please come back at 5′

 

 

 

 

So we did. Only she wasn’t there, but her mum, Nagris, who’d never laid eyes on us, invited us in anyway.

 

 

'Kainath's not home but come in and have something to eat' - Nargis

‘Kainath’s not home but come in and have something to eat’ – Nargis

 

 

 

 

Then Kainath’s sister, Munira, who we’d never met before either, turned up and said, do you want to come across the road to see my hand being mehndi’ed?

So we did.

 

 

'I don't know where my sister is but come across the road and watch' - Munira

‘I don’t know where my sister is but come across the road and watch’ – Munira

 

 

 

 

After we left them we walked around a little – and then ran into the woman who did Munira’s mehndi and her parents in law.

 

 

'he's my father in law'

‘he’s my father in law’

 

 

 

 

'and she's my mother in law'

‘and she’s my mother in law’

 

 

 

 

Somewhere in between all that we also met Mohammed. We only talked briefly but the next time we visited the neighbourhood we had a long chat standing outside his flat – so long that his wife called down to invite us in for dinner. Well, I ate while Coco raced around outside with Mohammed’s kids. Mohammed explained that he’d done many things but now drove a taxi so he could be his own boss, spend time with his kids and visit the mosque when he needed to.

 

 

King of Manhattan, living in Queens - Mohammed -  "I drive a taxi so I can be my own boss"

King of Manhattan, living in Queens – Mohammed – “I drive a taxi so I can be my own boss”

 

 

 

 

Given how important Eid Mubarak is, I thought perhaps we might have been regarded as intruders. Far from it. Thank you to everyone who welcomed us so warmly during our short stay in Jamaica, Queens!

 

 

 

Part 4: More images from around the hood

 

not the NY Times

not the NY Times

 

 

 

 

same thing minus the mountains

same thing minus the mountains

 

 

 

 

play after prayer

play after prayer

 

 

 

 

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 1

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 1

 

 

 

 

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 2

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 2

 

 

 

 

Sujan

Sujan

 

 

 

 

Part 5: From Bangladesh to Jamaica

A few blocks down from Bangladesh central is Jamaica central – on, wait for it, Jamaica Avenue. Two different worlds so close together.

 

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 1

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 1

 

 

 

 

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 2

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 2

 

 

 

 

wow, she looks so beautiful, and she's not even going to a wedding

wow, she looks so beautiful, and she’s not even going to a wedding

 

 

 

 

just streets apart - Pam and Sultana

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 3 – Pam and Sultana

 

 

 

 

same faith, different religions

same faith, different religions

 

 

 

 

This part of Jamaica may be full of people from the Caribbean now but it wasn’t that long ago that Jamaica Avenue catered to a very different crowd – an all-white one.

 

Jamaica Avenue - then and now

Jamaica Avenue – then and now

 

 

 

 

her dress is much prettier than mine

her dress is much prettier than mine

 

 

 

 

As distinct as the two areas are, there is some crossover. For example, Fauzia, a Bangladeshi, who works on Jamaica Avenue.

 

 

Fauzia on Jamaica Avenue, servicing a mainly black clientelle

Fauzia on Jamaica Avenue, servicing a mainly black clientele

 

 

 

 

And Meesha from Pakistan who was shopping on the avenue. She arrived in New York when she was 12, a decade ago. I asked her how she got on as a very devout Muslim woman. “No problem in NY, everyone’s too busy to care what you look like. But if I step outside NY, it can be hard.”

 

 

Jamaica Avenue - now and then

Jamaica Avenue – now and then

 

 

 

 

 

Part 6: Freddy and his bubble machines

Sitting in a restaurant on Jamaica Avenue eating lunch one day Coco noticed bubbles floating heavenward outside the window. When we’d finished we raced downstairs to find a grown man with a bubble gun in each hand – it was ‘General Vendor’, Freddy, demonstrating his wares.

 

 

bubble town

bubble town

 

 

 

 

spreading bubble love - Freddy

spreading bubble love – Freddy

 

 

 

 

Seeing as Freddy was having such a good time, Coco had to have her own bubble gun. So there we stood, she shooting bubble bullets while I shot her shooting them.

 

 

thought bubbles

thought bubbles

 

 

 

 

hands up

hands up

 

 

 

 

battle of the bubbles - Nicole and Carla

battle of the bubbles – Nicole and Carla

 

 

 

 

It was fun but a bit weird to watch my child wielding a gun at people, albeit a bubble gun. All the time I’ve been in NY I’ve been thinking, good lord, they have guns here. It didn’t help that as soon as we arrived in NY someone told me that a mentally challenged man in Times Square was gunned down by police that week. And after our bubble shooting spree, we got home to hear the news that a man had shot a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building earlier that day and then been shot himself. In both cases, police had to open fire in crowded tourist areas, injuring a handful of people in the process.

Two lessons learnt – guns are bad and being a tourist can be dangerous. Stick to the suburbs I say. (And before someone tells me that Jamaica isn’t a ‘suburb’, I know, I use the word suburb in the Australian sense, meaning any neighbourhood or area beyond a city centre.)

 

 

The Wrap

Queens is meant to be one of the most diverse places going and Jamaica was a good introduction to that diversity. It was a pleasant shock to see saris and salwar kameez en masse, swishing along a NY sidewalk, and then to leave South Asia and wander down into Jamaican/Hispanic territory, just ten minutes away. Like my own home town of Sydney, how wonderful is it that a city can support so much difference without too much trouble?

 

 

 

welcome to NY - Winston

welcome to NY – Winston

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

As I said earlier, we arrived in NY and I immediately got sick. Very boring – and the cause for this very late post. Luckily Coco didn’t catch the bug and is perfectly content – in her first week here she manged to squeeze in some playtime while we were out photographing, look after Emma, a beautiful Golden Retriever, for a day, and as we speak is ‘upstate’ with some lovely friends of ours, toasting marshmallows and swimming in their pool. And home schooling? What’s that? There’s been none of it for weeks unfortunately. But I’ve warned Coco – come next week when we move into our apartment (we’ve been camping at a friend’s place) it’s going to be on like Donkey Kong – a phrase Coco likes to use that I’m sure she shouldn’t but in the scheme of things…

And that man in the photo above? That’s Winston. If you’re ever in NY, be sure to call him to pick you up from the airport. He’ll tell you everything you need to know about everything. 646-642-0042.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Margaret Johnson

 —

Assuming no more bugs come my way, see you next Monday.

 

29

North Charlottenburg

C Intro

 

For the sixth and final Berlin post I wanted to explore somewhere that would absolutely confirm the theory that Berlin consists of a whole load of Berlins – each one so different you’d swear you were in another city.

Initially I wasn’t interested in Charlottenburg. All I’d heard was that it was affluent and contained a palace (yawn) and a major shopping strip, the Ku’damm.

But when I scrutinised the map for signs of life, I found a small patch in North Charlottenburg that intrigued me – a whole load of tiny streets. What were they I wondered?

Turns out they were the elusive kleingartenkolonien that I’d been searching for ever since we’d arrived in Berlin – small garden colonies also known as Schrebergärten or allotments.

When I read up on Charlottenburg Nord, I discovered that these garden colonies were sandwiched between two churches and a prison memorial that commemorated those who stood up to the Nazis – and were killed for doing so.

Garden colonies next to a prison with a memorial for Nazi victims – strange enough for me.

Quick history… North Charlottenburg is in the west of Berlin and the northern part of the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf borough just south of Tegel Airport. Far from being affluent, it consists of housing estates, allotment gardens, commercial zones and Plötzensee Prison.

Let’s…

 

Part 1: Where am I?

There are more than 100 garden colonies in Berlin but I’d never managed to spot one until I visited North Charlottenburg. Suddenly I was in kleingartenkolonien heaven – there seemed to be squillions of the things, stretching for miles and miles.

Unlike other garden allotments where urban dwellers are given small areas of soil to grow stuff on, Berlin’s allotments also come with small homes – less than 24sqm small.

While they may be petite, they have everything you need – electricity, plumbing etc – to be able to spend large chunks of time in them. And some of them are really sweet and obviously well looked after.

So does anyone live in their miniature homes? Some people I asked said, oh no, it’s illegal. Others said, well, occasionally it’s okay. Only one lady fessed up with what I suspect is the truth – that many people spend their entire summers living in them, only leaving when the weather forces them to.

My next question was, so how do you get one? Those who are lucky enough to know someone who wants to sell their allotment need to shell out a one-off payment of around 10,000 euros and then pay the government 400 euros a year in rent. But many Berliners never get a look in because a large number of the allotments are just passed on from one generation to the next.

Got your spade? Let’s wander…

 

welcome to miniature town

welcome to miniature town

 

 

 

 

The first people I met in this miniature, magical kingdom were Erika and Gunther. Their real home is an apartment, just five minutes away, but for 53 years they’ve been visiting their garden home, “whenever the weather is good”. Their two daughters grew up here and now have their own allotments nearby.

 

Erika in Kolonie Wiesengrund

Erika in Kolonie Wiesengrund

 

 

 

 

'the garden keeps us young' - 72 year old Erika and 80 year old Gunther

‘the garden keeps us young’ – 72 year old Erika and 80 year old Gunther

 

 

 

 

green thumb and lilac fingers - Erika's favourite flower

green thumb and lilac fingers – Erika’s favourite flower

 

 

 

 

Sitting in their garden, it really did feel like I’d left Berlin and was in the country somewhere. Erika produced tomatoes and carrots from her hothouse and showed me the inside of her garden home – it reminded me of a holiday house down the coast from Sydney – just smaller.

Yet as relaxed and rural as it seemed, the allotments are actually sitting on prime urban real estate – Erika explained that the garden colonies cover half the land size that they used to and are in danger of shrinking even more.

 

an endangered species - the gardens are shrinking

an endangered species – the gardens are shrinking

 

 

 

 

On our next visit, Coco and I noticed a whole load of balloons in an allotment just down the path from Erika and Gunther. We were peering over the fence when a couple of kids raced around – a moment later we were invited in for a cherry drink and to hear what the party was all about – Fabrizzio’s daughter had just started school and they were celebrating.

 

party?

party?

 

 

 

 

'soul and blood' - Fabrizzio, half Italian, half Polish

‘soul and blood’ – Fabrizzio, half Italian, half Polish

 

 

 

 

Fabrizzio's daughter, celebrating her first day at school

Fabrizzio’s daughter, celebrating her first day at school

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Sommerfest

I’d seen flyers pinned up around the place advertising a ‘Sommerfest’ in a nearby colony, Kolonie Jungfernheide. With promises of ‘musik und tanz’ (music and dance) we were in.

When we turned up the 80s disco music was blaring but the dancefloor was empty. Instead of having a wiggle, the residents of Kolonie Jungfernheide were focused on winning a stuffed bear, either through an overly complicated ticket system or by picking up a rifle and shooting something.

Clearly we had left Berlin, the world’s hip capital, and were somewhere else entirely.

 

welcome to the Jungfernheide Colony

welcome to the Jungfernheide Colony

 

 

 

 

eat, drink, try to win a bear, and be merry

eat, drink, try to win a bear, and be merry

 

 

 

 

shoot and win

shoot and win

 

 

 

 

aiming to win a bear

aiming to win a bear

 

 

 

 

love bear

love bear

 

 

 

 

white bear

white bear

 

 

 

 

big bear - Judy scores

big bear – Judy scores

 

 

 

 

Not everyone could win the bears though. Consolation prizes included bubbles.

 

bubbles

bubbles

 

 

 

 

Adding to the rather surreal feel of the day was Judy. Judy told Coco and I that she was originally from the Philippines but now lived with her German husband in Kolonie Jungfernheide. She took a shine to Coco and, well, wouldn’t leave her alone. Coco, she’s a cute kid, but it was just a little weird.

 

Judy takes a photo behind the bubble

Judy takes a photo of Coco from behind a bubble

 

 

 

 

As the Sommerfest was winding down – 7ish – we met Wolfgang. Initially it was his badged-hat that attracted me. But as I started snapping I couldn’t help wonder who he reminded me of…

 

Wolfgang

Wolfgang

 

 

 

Then it hit me. Gartenzwerg – the garden gnomes of the garden colonies. I mean, sure, no red hat and Wolfgang is a little taller, but aside from that he’s a real life gartenzwerg.

 

Gartenzwerg - Wolfgang and friend

Gartenzwerg – Wolfgang and friend

 

 

 

 

Garden gnomes have a long history in Germany and abound in Berlin’s kleingartenkolonien. Having never given them a second thought I was compelled to look more carefully at them given their abundance. My favourite one, I decided, is below, riding a pig.

 

 

where gnomes rule

where gnomes rule

 

 

 

 

Finally it was time to leave the disco tunes, the stuffed bears, Judy, Wolfgang and the gnomes, and wander home. Just as things were hotting up on the dancefloor. Or not.

 

dancing with his daughter

dancing with his daughter

 

 

 

 

shadows dancing

shadows dancing

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Arno and his hedge

On our last visit to North Charlottenburg’s garden colonies, we met Arno. I noticed his hedges first – how could you not? They were beautifully turned and quite unlike anything else in the Lilliput-esque world.

Like Erika and Gunther, Arno has had his allotment for more than 50 years and was an equally good advertisement for the health benefits of gardening – he’s 83.

 

the hedge-man - Arno's been taming nature here for 56 years

the hedge-man – Arno’s been taming nature here for 56 years

 

 

 

 

Arno and friends

Arno and friends

 

 

 

 

one-third of the space must be planted with fruit and vegetables

one-third of the space must be planted with fruit and vegetables

 

 

 

 

Arno with his address book - 'see, here, this is my brother's address in Baulkham Hills'

Arno with his address book – ‘see, here, this is my brother’s address in Baulkham Hills, Sydney!’

 

 

 

 

evening falls on Arno's hedges

evening falls on Arno’s hedges

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Gates, letter boxes and flags – lots of flags

The garden colonies of North Charlottenburg are happy places. Fruit drips off trees, over-sized sunflowers stand tall. Letter-boxes and flags smile.

 

one way or another the sun is always shining in the kleingartenkolonien

one way or another the sun is always shining in the kleingartenkolonien

 

 

 

 

purple

purple

 

 

 

 

flower eyes

flower eyes

 

 

 

 

happy birthday Max

happy birthday Max

 

 

 

 

I did wonder though, how would a non-ethnic German get on here? The German flags are as abundant as the garden gnomes and I didn’t see a single non-ethnic German. Until the last visit when we met Shnor. Originally from Iraq, Shnor and her family moved here when she was 14. There are doctors in the family and she has two degrees. She speaks fluent German and runs her own business. But still she says she’s treated differently, especially here in the close quarters of the kleingartenkolonien.

 

flying the flag :: 1

flying the flag :: 1

 

 

 

 

flying the flag :: 2

flying the flag :: 2

 

 

 

 

flying the flag :: 3

flying the flag :: 3

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Gedenkstätte Plötzensee

As I mentioned earlier, the garden colonies are sandwiched between two churches and a prison memorial, all of which commemorate those who were killed by the Nazis for actively objecting to the regime.

I visited the churches first as they’re on the way to the garden colonies. One of them, the Protestant church, is designed around a small, central cell-like window and is filled with highly evocative paintings that depict the incarceration and awful death (hanging or guillotine) of the Nazi opponents.

The churches serve their purpose of making sure no one forgets. But it wasn’t until I saw the Gedenkstätte Plötzensee (Plötzensee Memorial) that I was really freaked out by the sheer horror of what happened. They’ve kept the room where 2,500 men and women were executed for their beliefs. At the far end there are some flowers and a couple of wreaths sitting on the floor under the meat hooks that were once used for hanging. Although the back area is cordoned off I felt compelled to take a closer look at the wreaths. One was dedicated to Heinz Koch from his son and family. The wreath isn’t new but it can’t be that old either. Just the thought of his son going there to lay it and seeing the room where his dad was either hung or guillotined…

On the way back to the U-Bahn we walked past the garden colonies, bursting at the seams with energy and life. Having just left so much death, it was very strange indeed.

 

it wasn't just the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis

it wasn’t just the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis

 

 

 

 

the memorial at the prison to those who sacrificed their lives by fighting the 'Hitler dictatorship' of 1933-1945'

the memorial at the prison to those who sacrificed their lives by fighting the ‘Hitler dictatorship’ of 1933-1945

 

 

 

 

the execution room

the execution room

 

 

 

 

families were ripped apart

families were ripped apart

 

 

 

 

'To my father Heinz Koch, in honorific commemoration. Your son Klaus, daughter-in-law Heidi and grandchildren'

‘To my father Heinz Koch, in honorific commemoration, your son Klaus, daughter-in-law Heidi and grandchildren’

 

 

 

 

life and death, side by side

life and death, side by side

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I was so glad to have finally found some of the kleingartenkolonien that I’d heard about and to have met such lovely people as Erika, Gunther and Arno. May the garden colonies continue to overflow with fruit and flowers and not wither under pressure from developers.

And I hope too that the commemorative churches and memorial to the victims of the Nazis ensures that the memory of those people who sacrificed their lives continues to live on. I know I’ll never forget them.

 

 

 

North Charlottenburg - where they are fighting to keep gardens and memories alive

North Charlottenburg – where they are fighting to keep gardens and memories alive

 

 

 

 

dear Berlin(s), goodbye until the next time

dear Berlin(s), goodbye until the next time

 

 

 

 

Coco - 'Berlin is my favourite because it's so relaxed

Coco – ‘Berlin is my favourite because it’s so relaxed

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

It’s been hectic. This week we packed up and moved out of the apartment we’ve called home for six weeks, finished photographing for this post, flew to Rome to overnight in an airport hotel before catching a nine hour flight the next morning to New York… All of which explains why this post is so late. I thought I’d be able to hit the ‘Publish’ button before we left Berlin on Tuesday but time evaporated and before I knew it, we were sitting in a New York taxi listening to loud reggae and Winston, our very chatty and learned Jamaican taxi driver.

So ‘auf wiedersehen’ and ‘tschüs’ Berlin. You’re fascinating and strange and so much more than just the cool, hip – cheap – city they say you are. At times I found you horrifying and saddening, then surprising and uplifting. And even when I didn’t know quite what to think or feel, I always found you interesting.

I can’t wait to come back in ten, twenty, thirty years time to see how you turned out.

And Coco, well, she tells me you’re her favourite city so far – because you’re “so relaxed”. And I thought it was just because of the frankfurters.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Samantha Heron

 —

It’s already Thursday and we’ve just arrived in New York. So the next post will be either Friday or Monday week. See you then.

 

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